Late Night TV. Some people love it, while others hate it. For those who love it, everyone seems to have a favorite. Jay, Dave, Conan, whoever. Everyone is entitled to their opinions.
For me, it's Jimmy Fallon. Not just because he's funny (which he is), but because I think so many elements from his show are transferable to youth ministry (and ministry in general). These things range from programming to relational dynamics.
- Audience InvolvementTeenagers go to school 5 days a week. And a lot of school is sitting at your desk and being talked to. Jimmy engages the audience by asking for feedback or randomly going into the crowd and talking. When he talks, he doesn't just talk to the camera, but he talks to the people that are there. It's not a "sit and watch" but a "come be part of this" environment.
- With that stems another point: it's Experiential. Almost nightly, you can find Jimmy doing a game that almost always includes a couple audience members as contestants. Whether it's Karate Pinata, Cell Phone Shootout, Models and Buckets, etc - it's involving some members in "next level" interaction. This heightens awareness and experience for people. They're that much more engaged in what is happening when they or their peer is ACTUALLY being a part of what's happening.
- A third thing is: FUN. Honestly, this is a big deal. You've got to have an element of fun and be free to be silly when it's appropriate. People are spending their time to be a part of this, so you've got to engage them and include fun. Fun is attractive. On Fallon, the games are a mix between classics like charades and pictionary to their own creations like Guess That Name. And for games up front, both winners and losers leave with a prize ("no one goes home empty handed"). Even if it's a Late Night Moist Towelette. They are intentional about having fun AND making sure everyone who participates doesn't leave with a bad taste in their mouth.
- Be Current and Relevant. Because it is a late night talk show, it's easy to stay current on news happening around the world. But here's where I think Late Night With Jimmy Fallon separates from the rest of the pack. They don't just talk current topics, but they use current trends to involve people. No other show on TV has a weekly Twitter Hashtag for people to respond and interact with. Sure, Leno has "Headlines" where people can send stuff in - and that's great. But Twitter is current, up-to-date and immediate. On Tuesdays Jimmy will give a Late Night Hashtag with an example tweet, then on Wednesday he will go through all the ones he can on Twitter, pick out his favorite ones, and then read them on the air. Which in itself is AN EXTRA LEVEL OF AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION! The television audience now has a new avenue of interation with what's happening. The truth is this: people have twitter, cell phones, etc. We know this. Jimmy Fallon's show realizes this - and so they meet people where they are - and utilize what they have to increase the experience. What are way you can use what teens have to meet them where they are?
- He Is Human. This may be my most favorite trait about Jimmy Fallon. I know he hates this about himself, but on SNL he would often "break" from character and laugh at what was happening. It's endearing. During different bits on Late Night, Jimmy will crack a smile or laugh. While having conversations or interviewing guests, he will laugh with them. Even in the middle of a monologue or other speaking, he will take rabbit trails and be silly, laugh, crack jokes on the spot. That's what I love about him. It's not all about sticking to the rigid, structured schedule. He has it, but it's ok to move from it a bit. It's not all about keeping in character (pastors, listen up) - instead, he's just real. If something's funny, he laughs. If something's serious, he shows genuine concern. But with all of his guests, he does his best to build them up and seem like they are the greatest person in the room. He will also play games and have fun with them (and not just let them win either!). And honestly, his guests love him - because he's human.
As a side, Jimmy also will involve several different members of his staff for different bits as well. He doesn't have to have all of the attention. He knows that when people benefit from what others on his team are doing, everyone wins. It builds awareness and improves the experience.
I could go on and on more about all of this, but I won't right now. Instead, let me conclude by saying: if your youth ministry engages the audience, is experiential, includes fun, stays current & relevant, and you are human - and you build all of it with the Bible as your foundation - I believe you've got some ingredients for great things to happen.
*Here's my disclaimer* not everything on the show is clean. Language generally isn't a big issue, but there can be several sexual references and other content. There's definitely been other late night shows that push the envelope way more than these guys. I personally just enjoy Jimmy, and it stirs my creativity. Several of the games they do, I acutally plan to use in our youth ministry and other conference programming. They're simple, silly and fun.